How can we be sustainable? An introduction for SME’s, plus a tangible example on Climate Change

What does sustainable mean?

The definition of sustainability is for me the stewardship of natural, human and productive capital for global prosperity during our lifetime and without indebting future generations. We must put back what we use, treat humans and animals with respect and make, buy, sell and re-use products equitably & without excess, that are built to last and that satisfy a human need.

What targets should we work towards?

In 2015, 193 countries across the globe adopted the 17 Sustainable development goals, which set out the global objectives and priorities to reach by 2030.

“Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” is a roadmap to ending global poverty, building a life of dignity for all and leaving no one behind. It is also a clarion call to work in partnership and intensify efforts to share prosperity, empower people’s livelihoods, ensure peace and heal our planet for the benefit of this and future generations,” underscored UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon.

The world cannot rely on governments and NGOs alone to achieve these goals. Global supply chains and powerful brands can do so much to make these goals a reality. Since the goals were adopted there has been a shift in business to take an active role in achieving them and become what is better known as “a Force for Good”; to solve the problem of people and planet profitably, rather than be the cause of them.

Earlier this year, the UN Global Compact in consultation with business leaders established a list of 10 SDG Ambition priority benchmarks that businesses should focus on. By their interlinked nature these benchmarks set the level of business ambition required for the world to deliver on the 17 SDGs by 2030.  They ensure transformative changes rather than incremental change, based on competitors’ or own past performance.

  1. Gender balance across all levels of management – SDG 5
  2. Net-positive water impact in water stressed basins – SDG 6
  3. 100% of employees across the organisation earn a living wage – SDG 8
  4. Zero waste to landfill and incineration – SDG 12
  5. Zero discharge of hazardous pollutants and chemicals – SDG 12
  6. 100% sustainable material inputs that are renewable, recyclable or re-useable – SDG 12
  7. Science-based emissions reduction in line with the 1.5oC pathway – SDG 13
  8. 100% resource recovery, with all materials and products recovered and recycled or reused at end of use – SDG 13
  9. Land degradation neutrality including zero deforestation – SDG 15
  10. Zero incidences of bribery – SDG 16

These 10 Benchmarks are the ambitious goals that businesses should work towards achieving by 2030 and beyond.  In doing so they will ensure that future generations will not be indebted, through misguided actions today.

Where do we start and what steps should we take?

The first step on the sustainability journey is to commit to these goals as a business and then tell everyone about it i.e., make it public!

Committing to the global goals is best done through a body or organisation that is recognised globally and whose logo can use alongside the brands’ logo publicly.  Examples of such organisations are UN global Compact or B Corporation.

The first requires your CEO to write a formal letter to the UN Secretary General pledging your commitment to embedding the goals into your business strategy and operations.  Thereafter, to submit an annual progress report on your ambitious targets and progress towards them.

Joining the B Corporation requires businesses to fill out a +/- 300-question assessment for which the pass mark for certification is 80 points. Until you are a fully certified B Corporation you cannot benefit from their logo.

Alternatively, as an SME, if signing up to all the SDGs in one go is a bit daunting at first, it is possible start with just one goal and work towards that.  The UN Global Compact and the B Corporation amongst others, provide a whole host of resources to guide businesses to sign up to and set targets for different initiatives and there are a number of routes specially designed for SME’s.

At this point and as with any new initiative, it is worth dedicating a resource to lead, guide, target set, validate and ensure a timely implementation of the different actions.  Also, not to be overlooked is the public nature of reporting on progress annually in the form, more often than not, of a sustainability report.  Such a document can be used to share commitments and report on progress publicly.  It can be quoted in social media and other relevant areas, to raise awareness of what your brand is doing as well as reassure consumers as to the seriousness of your brands commitment (i.e., that there is substance behind the promises)

This can either be an internal resource or a consultant familiar with the Benchmark requirements, or both.  Perhaps beginning with a consultant to start the ball rolling and then handing over an established framework to an internal resource to continue championing the objectives.

To help understand the types of requirement, I can provide an example for SDG 13 for Climate Action, that I recently put together for a client.  If you would like a copy please drop me a message here:

A final thought

With some experience under their belts for one SDG benchmark, SME’s will be able to move on to setting goals against all of the other 10 benchmarks listed.  Given that we are already in 2021 and we only have 9 years left until 2030, goal setting needs to happen as quickly as possible, so as to use the time left to implement change.  Having said this, breaking large things into smaller bitesize portions, make a daunting task much easier. Another trick is also to maintain momentum and keep things moving forward by fixing milestones and making someone accountable for progress.   As with anything new, the first step is always the hardest.  And the sooner we start the better!

If you want to learn more about how I help clients build their sustainability roadmaps; maintain momentum and keep things simple, please book a 30-minute conversation with me here.

If you thought this article was interesting and would like to have more examples of the 10 Benchmarks, leave a comment below!

Thank you!

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